Detroit-native Don Juan Mancha wore many hats during his 40-year foray in the music biz: songwriter, producer, arranger, record label owner, road manager, and radio DJ. It all began in high school where he sang in various vocal groups including the Delrays with Barrett Strong. After Air Force duty, he returned to Detroit and got knee-deep into the city's burgeoning recording scene. Berry Gordy was penning hits for Jackie Wilson, the Miracles, and Marv Johnson. Gordy also had Tamla Records off and running; others followed suit, and labels like Fortune had been on the scene for years. His first big production was the Falcons' immortal "I Found a Love" with a 19-year-old Wilson Pickett belting out the lead vocal. When Pickett left to go solo, Mancha wrote and produced a number of his early sides including "If You Need Me" and "For Better or Worse," working with Robert Bateman and William "Sonny" Sanders.
He moved to California in 1962 and worked with Ike Turner but kept his ties in Detroit where he produced and wrote for Emmanuel Laskey and hit licks at Correctone and Thelma Records, collaborating with Ivy Hunter, Clay McMurray, Freddie Gorman, and others. A move to Chicago on South Cottage Grove proved fruitful as he began writing for locals like child prodigy Darrow Fletcher.
Back in Detroit, he discovered Jack Montgomery (previously known as Marvin Tyrone Jones) and wrote and produced "Dearly Beloved" (also issued as "My Dear Beloved"), a song that did nothing upon its release on Scepter Records but is sought after now by soul music aficionados, and "Don't Turn Your Back on Me," for Montgomery, who was renamed after the motion picture star. The latter was Montgomery's debut and Mancha issued it on his fledgling Barracuda label. Mancha gave Marvin Jones his stage name and was also instrumental in Clyde Wilson becoming Steve Mancha. Don Davis was trying to come up with a new name for the singer but hit a bump at Steve; looking at Don Juan, Davis asked, "mind if I call him Steve Mancha, using your last name?" "Sure," said D. Mancha, "soulful as this guy sings he can use any name he wants."
Always on the move, Mancha took his writing, arranging, and producing skills to Memphis and New York. He worked with Chaka Khan and Sherrie Payne before she became a member of the Supremes. Mancha assisted Motown's ex-Artist and Repertoire Director William "Mickey" Stevenson on Richard Pryor's Adios Amigo flick and worked on a Disney exercise video starring Mickey Mouse.
He worked as Edwin Starr's road manager for awhile and collaborated with Starr on some songs with extraterrestrial titles: "Flying Saucers Over Georgia," "Earth Man," and "Late Great Planet Earth." He produced a television pilot MCed by Starr entitled Back Beat City in the '80s that was blown away by the emergence of MTV. Based in his hometown, Detroit, Mancha's working on two televisions shows, an album, and a movie. Which may seem like a lot, but it's mere child's play for "Straight Ahead and Straight Up" music hanger-on Don Juan Mancha.